Wednesday, October 23, 2013

William Zinsser's "The Transaction"

The opening chapter of William Zinsser's On Writing Well tells of Zinsser and a Dr. Brock being invited to talk about writing. For Dr. Brock, writing is is avocation. Zinsser is the consummate professional writer. The doctor says that he writes only when he is in the mood, how writing is relaxing, how he never rewrites and simply goes with the flow. Zinsser's ideas about writing are the opposite of these and he says so. He calls this chapter "The Transaction," a businesslike term that sets a tone carried through the rest of the book: writing is business, but there is no business like the writing business.

I mention to plug On Writing Well--a book I've read dozens of times and that every human being should read at least once--and for two other reasons: my yawning I'm doing this morning and a feeling I had yesterday.

First, the yawning. I'm burning the candle at both ends lately, getting to bed at ten and waking at 4:45. That's not enough sleep for me. I had been making up the deficit with short naps but for five days haven't managed to fit one in. I'm feeling the effects of this deficit and dreaming of skipping work to lie in bed all day.

Being this tired it isn't my first wish to sit at the keyboard and type. Dr. Brock says to go ahead and take a nap, but his voice is less convincing than Zinsser's which says, simply, "it's time to write." So I am and, of course, I feel better than I would going back to sleep. I'm still yawning all over the place, but writing on. I'll sleep-walk through my day job before I give up writing time.

Second, the unexpected feeling I had yesterday when I had nothing to write. Dr. Brock told me, "grab some coffee, check Facebook and Google+, go read something." But I didn't hear him. I sat my butt in the chair and wrote, ending the morning with drafts of two essays one of which I revised into something worth publishing. I was the guy who sits his butt in the chair and gets writing done. I felt like a writer.

(Searching for the "butt in the chair" reference, I found this delicious quote attributed to Faulkner: “I write only when I’m inspired. Fortunately I’m inspired at 9 o’clock every morning.”)

William Zinsser
I'm on to something with this writing life. Two weeks ago, I wrote, "there is nothing I would rather do than write." Such things have occurred before, but I've argued the idea. This time, it came unbidden and I knew it was true. Yesterday I got my butt in the chair and found I'm inspired even without inspiration. Today I'm rearranging my sleep schedule to accommodate writing. Three transactions all involving writing well.

These are good days. I'm becoming less Dr. Brock, more William Zinsser, knowing that all I want to do is to sit my butt in the chair and write on.